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Italian Christmas Traditions (Tradizioni Natalizie Italiane)

Christmas is widely celebrated in Italy. Even if the number of those declaring themselves Christian is shrinking, celebrating Christmas is something else: over time, the secular side of the holiday has become prevalent. But what are the most beloved Christmas traditions? Take a look at the following tradizioni natalizie Italiane (Italian Christmas traditions).

  1. Decorating the tree. Many families decorate their tree on December 8 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). Preparing a nativity scene at home (il presepe) is more religion based; however, some people set it up anyway, to contribute to the Christmas vibe.
  2. In December, many people receive the so called tredicesima (literally, the thirteenth), which is an extra monthly salary. And many devote it to Christmas shopping. Stores are open extra hours and the days before Christmas you’ll see crazy crowds of latecomers buying gifts.
  3. The gift opening happens at midnight on Christmas Eve, or upon awakening on December 25. It is mostly a family choice, and much depends on, well, the impatience level of the kids. Gifts used to be brought by Baby Jesus, but Santa has now taken over, probably due to the secularization of Christmas itself.
  4. How and when Christmas is celebrated varies a lot from region to region and from family to family. For some, it’s all about Christmas Eve dinner, for others t’is lunch on Christmas day. Many families celebrate both. And December 26 is another public holiday (S. Stefano). This could mean three days of abundant meals and huge family gatherings.
  5. No meat on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally fish based. Tradition calls for eel or salted coldfish, but the imperative is no meat. This custom started in order to get ready for the next day’s feast without overeating and spending too much, which explains why “poor” fishes are favored.
  6. Pandoro o panettone? This is the question—an evergreen one, with no winners, in every Italian household. There are countless additional local treats for Christmas, and panettone and pandoro are i dolci di Natale by definition.
  7. This bingo variant is the king of Christmas games. Very common also are card games, like scopa, or mercante in fiera, or board games, but these can be played by a limited number of people. With twenty people of all ages around the table, tombola always saves the day.
  8. Month-long celebrations. The holiday season starts on December 8 and ends on January 6 . Of course, it’s not an ACTUAL month of parties, but the vibe is very festive. January 6 is the Epifania, and this time gifts are brought to kids only from an old, kind witch, la Befana. But it’s bittersweet for children; school starts again the following day, since l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via.

By Claudia Quesito

Also read: Top 8 Italian Christmas Dishes

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